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A Captive in Afghanistan

A Captive in Afghanistan

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Published by Akif Syed

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Published by: Akif Syed on May 01, 2009
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10/18/2011

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CAPTIVE IN AFGHANISTANA true personal story of a young Pakistanicaught in the crossfire of the Afghan CrisisAs narrated to Akif Zaidi[Published by Ferozsons (Pvt) Ltd. ISBN 969-0-01598-2]
PREFACEThis is a story about four innocent young men who went on a day long outing -and ventured just that extra bit over dangerous territory. While it is true that they werefoolhardy enough to have even contemplated the trip, just when they did, for peoplelike us who believe in destiny, the simple fact would remain that trouble comesunannounced. Finding themselves entwined in what can only be called sheer bad luck,their picnic became a complex kidnapping for ransom and then imprisonment by ahostile foreign government. By the time that their ordeal finally came to an end morethan eight months later, it had involved a number of players in both unofficial andofficial Afghan circles as well as many people in Pakistan and India.It has been more than a decade since the unfortunate events on which this true personal story is based took place. The story could thus have been shared many yearshence. But, for many of these years, the victims were not willing to share their ordealwith others for a variety of reasons. These included the fact that most of their abductors were alive and thriving. Indeed, they or their agents lived far too close for them to be comfortable even in their solitude. Secondly, being very pragmatic persons- as perhaps all successful businessmen are - they believed that any information shouldonly be provided on a "need to know" basis. They were not journalists or people in public affairs who make a living by selling or making stories. In their opinion, therewas no need, let alone benefit, to share a bitter personal experience that took placeseveral years ago.They were also concerned that some Pakistani government agency chargedwith collecting such information about Afghanistan may again open its eternally-incomplete files and come barging through their doors and once again disturb dailyroutines which had come back to normal after quite some efforts. Memories of thegeneral apathy and lack of response by Pakistani authorities during the worst days of their plight were fresh. While they were wrongly confined in hostile territory - anddeserved official Pakistani help as a matter of right - it had seemed that the last peoplethe victims or their families could look towards for help were the Pakistanigovernment and its overt or covert military and intelligence agencies, who were probably too busy pursuing greater strategic aims. It was only after the victims had bought their freedom at a very high price - the equivalent of about US $ 20,000 per  person at the time - which left their families severely in debt, and returned home, didthe agencies become active. They were only interested in debriefing the victims,completing official formalities and filing reports. Also apprehended was a possibleinterest by tax-authorities seeking information as to the source of funds. There wasanother complicating factor: during the whole process, some politicians of the NWFP
 
having links with the Afghan Government (and traditionally considered disloyal toPakistan) were also contacted; this too could have come under investigation.Of course, not many of us would be surprised by such attitudes. It is not toounusual to see such attitudes on part of third-world government officials who too busyin their own small affairs to be sensitive about people who, at least theoretically, paytheir salaries. Far from being interested in the welfare of their fellow countrymen,which is especially essential in foreign lands, if anything, our bureaucrats are knownfor their indifference towards their fellow-citizens and their duties. Concepts of responsible governance seem to be all but alien to us. In this case the only action takenconsisted of informal advice given to next of kin of the abductees by certain "sincere"officials not to depend on the government and make the best of what they themselvescould do. This too was kind of them. Otherwise, given their unhelpful nature,government officials in these parts can be expected to cause further agony to alreadysuffering citizens by questioning the source of money which made the victims'deliverance possible or contacts with disliked persons.Indeed, like the victims themselves, one may question the wisdom in bringingforth this book and narrating the story of a group of ordinary Pakistanis caught in themidst of a civil strife that is only too common in our violent era, and more so in theunstable parts of the world in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The present heating upof the Afghan situation - which has yet to settle down - was seen by me as a backdropin which a first-person story like this may still evoke some interest.Secondly, as a reader of literature, I felt that every story had its uniqueness,even if its characters were ordinary people whose suffering had taken place long ago.Such events, as unfold in this story, could have engulfed any one of us. Perhaps thecommonplaceness of most ordinary first-person stories makes them interesting: thereaders’ feeling of being able to identify themselves with the characters.Moreover, every story also has its morals - as were clearly read to us in our childhoods at the end of every fable. When properly imbibed, morals of real life storiescan prepare us for facing unforeseen problems. Modern educators call them case-histories. Perhaps then, God-forbidding if any one of us were to face adversecircumstances, the memory of something that the persons in this story did could behelpful - in facing interrogators, maintaining morale and health, communicating withcaptors and fellow prisoners, and so on.Yet another justification for this book is the fact that few first person storieshave come out of Afghanistan's recent crises. The few that have been written down in book form have been by war correspondents. There have been journalistic articlesrecounting adventurous and memorable visits. Possibly this is the first detailed accountof an ordinary civilian caught in an unfortunate situation that led to a long captivity - atrue life account of the situation described by the Urdu maxim about the "grain-worms being ground along with the flour."The present narration by one of the four abductees began with some persuasionon my part and that too five years after his return (1991). By that time it was widelyrumoured that two of the main Afghan desperadoes who were involved in their abduction and later paid freedom had been killed. It could have been completed and published much earlier but for the busy schedules of both the narrator and this writer,
 
as well as, perhaps, a lack of urgency. Since then, the notes have been stored in aseries of PCs and diskettes - being changed from WordStar to WordPerfect to AmiProand now MS-Word! But the important point to note is that the story was preserved ata time when memory of the events was still fresh.The last 25 years, starting with the deposition of the Afghan monarch KingZahir Shah in 1973, have seen the bloodiest chapter in the history of Afghanistan, anation that has been one of the most typical of lands that historians have termed as political buffers. At the fringes of one Empire or the other, the Afghans have been for the most part, a fierce and militant tribal people growing up not just to match butovercome their rough and tough physical environment. Not infrequently, thetoughness thus acquired proved to be detrimental not just to the Afghans themselves but also for their immediate neighbours. The militancy and divisiveness of the tribeshas often meant a lack of tolerance for others' point of views and translated intoincessant tribal and ethnic feuds. The lack of stability resulting from this fragmentation- as well as absence of a viable economy - then spilled over into the adjoiningcountries, most particularly pre-modern India (and now Pakistan) which becameextensions of Afghan troubles.Over the centuries, Afghans have been visited by one great empire builder after another: from Alexander the Great to the Persians, the Muslims, the Mongols, theTurks, and most recently the Soviets. But history is witness to the brave struggles thatthese people put up against all those who attempted to rein in their traditional love for freedom. In most cases, the conquerors stayed only briefly leaving their traces byhanding over whatever token authority they may have been able to gain to local chiefswho then became virtually independent local rulers in the garb of being representativesof the distant authority. Such was their ferocious militancy that quite often these localrulers gained so much power that they initiated and succeeded in bringing large tractsof the Indo-Gangetic plains under their control. Even though most of these adventurersneither aimed at nor actually carried out long-term subjugation of Indian rulers, theydid, all the same, put the fear of a new force from the West into the hearts of mostIndians.Mahmud of Ghaznavi will always be remembered in India for his proverbialseventeen raids into the rich lands of Gujarat. Later the Ghauris, Lodhis, and Surisruled over India. The Great Mughals also came from lands very close, both politicallyand culturally, to Afghanistan. During the chaos which accompanied the decline of theMughals, two Afghan generals visited India. The first, Nadir Shah, an independentadventurer, led his forces on a typical pillage of a dying state. Figures of Delhi citizenskilled by Nadir Shah range from 30,000 to 100,000. In 1761 Ahmad Shah Abdali wasinvited by the famous Muslim reformer Shah Waliullah to stem the rot brought in as aresult of the crumbling Mughal Empire and boost the sagging Indian Muslim moraleand culture. Having conquered Ranjit Singh's North-Western Empire, the British had by themid 19th century become well-entrenched in the Indian regions bounding onAfghanistan. As a direct result of this imperialist expansion, the Russians also spreadwell up to the Oxus river boundary between Central Asia and the traditionallyrecognized Afghan lands. With two imperial powers coming face to face, and eachwary of the other's power and long term designs, began a great military and diplomaticcontest between the two, appropriately called the Great Game. Recognizing that the

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